Does 1 John 2:18-19 Support the Calvinist “Never Saved to Begin With” View of Apostasy?

1 John 2:18-19

Little children, it is the last hour and as you have heard that the Anti-Christ is coming, even now many anti-christs have come, by which we know that it is the last hour.  They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be manifest, that none of them were of us.

This passage has been held up by Calvinists as teaching a universal principal of what “apostasy” constitutes.  Remember, apostasy in Calvinism means only that one rejects the gospel.  It is not a falling away from true faith.  True faith endures since God infallibly preserves it and if one should seem to fall away it only proves that the person never possessed genuine faith and had never been regenerated.  It is impossible, according to Calvinism, to fall away from true faith.  One can only fall away from a false profession of true faith and prove that one was always just a hypocrite.  Calvinists believe that this single passage of Scripture proves their strange definition of apostasy to be the Biblical definition.

John speaks of false teachers (anti-christs) who went out “from us” (the true gospel teachers) and thus proved by their going that they were not “of us.”  Does John then teach the Calvinistic definition of apostasy?  Not at all.  The passage simply does not say what the Calvinist needs it to say for several reasons.

First, John is not laying down a universal principle concerning what it means to be an apostate.  John is specifically speaking of false teachers leaving the company of the true gospel teachers and proving by their leaving that they are not in harmony with the true gospel.  Had they continued in the truth they would have no reason to leave but since they had abandoned the truth they could no longer keep company with the true gospel teachers and went out from them to spread their heresies.  By doing so they proved that their authority is not from God, and their teachings should not be trusted. This is John’s primary point in this passage.

Second, the passage says nothing of the false teachers’ prior spiritual condition.  It only tells us that at the time of their going they were not “of” the true gospel teachers.  They were committed to false doctrine when they left and left for that reason, but we have no way of knowing whether or not they had at one time genuinely embraced the truth.  The passage does not address their spiritual condition prior to their leaving, and this is exactly what the Calvinist needs the passage to do in order to support their doctrine.  The Calvinist needs the passage to say, “They went out from us, but they were not [ever] of us; for if they had [ever] been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be manifest, that none of them were [ever at any time] of us.”  The “ever” must be read into the text.  It is simply not there and the Calvinist must beg the question to assume that this is what John meant to imply.  For this reason alone, this passage fails as a proof text for Calvinistic apostasy.

Third, the context of the epistle argues for the view that these false teachers were indeed saved prior to their defection and left only after embracing false teaching and thereby apostatizing from the truth they once embraced.  One of the main issues being addressed throughout 1 John is how one can determine whether or not one is truly saved (“born of God”). The Gnostics (i.e. anti-christs) were teaching that there was no connection between behavior and salvation. They believed that the human spirit was incorruptible and could in no way be affected by the sins of the flesh. John directly opposes such teaching numerous times in his epistle (1:5-10; 2:1, 3-6, 9-11, 15; 3:4-11, 15, 17, 18, 24; 4:7, 16, 20, 21; 5:1, 2).  John is primarily encouraging his readers to reject the false teachings of the “anti-christs” who are teaching that one can sin with spiritual immunity, and helping them to understand the true characteristics of God’s children.

Now for us to believe that the anti-christs who left the company of the true gospel teachers were never true believers would suggest that John and the true gospel teachers were not able to detect their hypocrisy while they kept their company.  This runs contrary to one of John’s main concerns in the epistle, that one can discern the difference between true followers of Christ and unbelievers by character and behavior.  To believe that John was incapable of detecting their hypocrisy prior to their actual defection is out of harmony with one of the most prominent themes of the entire letter.

 
From: Perseverance of the Saints Part 12: Examining Passages Commonly Appealed to by the Advocates of Unconditional Eternal Security

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27 Responses

  1. Great Post Ben!

  2. Thanks for the post. I’m wrestling with the security issue again, so I am trying to look objectively at the various passages and arguments made. I have always found this passage a strong argument that supports the view that one who turns from Christ was never truly a part of Christ. Respectfully, I don’t find the three points made here a strong argumentation against that view. #1 John is certainly addressing a very specific situation, but he is applying a principle to illuminate what has really transpired. These men left the fellowship and they did so because they were not truly a part of the fellowship. That “principle” is how John reckons what happened. #2 It may be my inclination towards this view of apostasy that colors my view, but the plain reading seems to lend itself to understanding that these men were never a true part of the fellowship. I don’t see any reason for John to elaborate this point otherwise. Also, to say that because it doesn’t say “ever” it doesn’t imply “ever” isn’t a jump we want to make. It is the same as the Catholic argument that because it doesn’t say faith “alone” it doesn’t mean faith alone. #3 I think we all know that people have a great ability to deceive. Sometimes it is from a deliberate intent and moreover in the church it is a commitment to religion rather than a commitment to Jesus. Those people can be very difficult to discern because they are devoted to make their outward life resemble standards of righteousness. The caution of Jesus’ parable of the weeds must be taken because their appearance can have such a resemblance to a believer. I agree that a big part of John’s purpose in this letter is to help people understand that someone in genuine fellowship with Christ is going to have a life that demonstrates that reality, but it doesn’t mean that making that call on others standing with God is simple and we are certainly cautioned in the Scriptures at many points to be careful in doing so. Thanks again. I’d welcome constructive interaction on these points.

  3. Kevin,

    I wish I had more time, but I wanted to quickly address your comments. Maybe we can get more in-depth at a later time.

    #1 John is certainly addressing a very specific situation, but he is applying a principle to illuminate what has really transpired. These men left the fellowship and they did so because they were not truly a part of the fellowship. That “principle” is how John reckons what happened.

    This seems like mere assumption to me. To say that he is applying a principle to illuminate what transpired is question begging in my opinion. What principle? The principle that those who fall away were never really saved? See what I mean by question begging? But if it is as I described it in this post, then the “principle” is that those who left the company of the true gospel preachers did so because they were no longer in harmony with them. Those who are in harmony with the true gospel teachers would have no reason to leave. They left, so they were not in harmony with the message of the true gospel teachers. Why can’t that be the principle?

    #2 It may be my inclination towards this view of apostasy that colors my view, but the plain reading seems to lend itself to understanding that these men were never a true part of the fellowship. I don’t see any reason for John to elaborate this point otherwise. Also, to say that because it doesn’t say “ever” it doesn’t imply “ever” isn’t a jump we want to make. It is the same as the Catholic argument that because it doesn’t say faith “alone” it doesn’t mean faith alone.

    This just doesn’t follow. If this passage is being held up as proof for a specific view of apostasy, it had better make that point. But it doesn’t. In order for it to make the point, it needs to teach that those who left were never “of” those they parted company with. That is the Calvinist claim, and that claim is not supported by the language of this text. There is no reason to think it is implied either, unless, again, we want to engage in question begging. In other words, the “plain reading” does not lend itself to that understanding, as you claim. I think you hit the nail on the head when you said, “It may be my inclination towards this view of apostasy that colors my view”.

    As for John elaborating the point, it is because he wants them to know that the message they (the anti-christs) are speaking is not in harmony with the message of the true gospel teachers (i.e. it is false doctrine; it is not to be trusted, etc.). I made this exact point in the post. John doesn’t want them to be fooled into thinking that these teachers are teaching sound doctrine just because they once kept company with the true gospel teachers (i.e. “don’t be fooled in to trusting them, their message is not authorized by us, it is not our message. If it was our message, they would not have gone their own way”).

    #3 I think we all know that people have a great ability to deceive. Sometimes it is from a deliberate intent and moreover in the church it is a commitment to religion rather than a commitment to Jesus. Those people can be very difficult to discern because they are devoted to make their outward life resemble standards of righteousness.

    I agree it is difficult to know the level of one’s devotion at times, but the Bible makes it clear (even in this epistle) that there are reliable tests to determine if someone is not saved. If anyone could make that judgment, I would assume it would be John. However, even if we concede your point entirely, it doesn’t change the fact that this passage does not teach the “never saved to begin with” view of apostasy.

    The caution of Jesus’ parable of the weeds must be taken because their appearance can have such a resemblance to a believer.

    I’m not sure this is the main point of that parable. That is a discussion for another time perhaps. I will point out that in that parable, the field is said to be “the world” and not the “church”. Still, as I mentioned in the post, that is not necessarily a universal principle being applied. In other words, there can be unbelievers who once professed faith that were never true believers, and there can also be unbelievers who were once truly saved, genuine believers. If a certain passage addresses one group, that doesn’t preclude the other.

    The bottom line for me is that this passage simply does not support the “never saved to begin with” view. If one holds that view already and comes to this text, that person can certainly view this passage as supporting that view. But if one looks at this text and the language of the passage in question outside of any preconceived notions, one simply cannot rightly conclude that this passage is teaching such a view of apostasy. In other words, it really needs to be read into the text.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  4. Thanks Ben. I appreciate your reply. I can agree that for one who holds the “never saved view”, they can see support for their position but the verse certainly doesn’t demand that interpretation. I moving away from a pretty Calvinistic grid and I have realized more and more how that grid makes you view various passages with a distinct bent. I think we all have to battle with our preconceived ideas about what the Bible teaches. It’s easy to merely find support for what we already believe. It’s much harder to be honest with the Scriptures. I am striving to do so and have made some major moves away from Calvinism, but security or perseverance is a difficult one for me get away from. I see a lot of Scripture that seems to support each side of the issue. I am less concerned about this issue in comparison with other Calvinist points because I think reasonable positions on each side have the same conclusion that all Christians need to persevere. Yet there are still important realities at stake that would serve us well to understand. I’m trying to plow through a bunch of articles on perseverance on this site, but it would be helpful to be able to consistently dialog with someone. If there is a way to do that, it would be a blessing.
    Thanks again.

  5. I think we all have to battle with our preconceived ideas about what the Bible teaches. It’s easy to merely find support for what we already believe. It’s much harder to be honest with the Scriptures.

    Amen.

    I am less concerned about this issue in comparison with other Calvinist points because I think reasonable positions on each side have the same conclusion that all Christians need to persevere.

    That is generally true, except for the version of eternal security that denies even the need for perseverance in faith (as held by Stanley, Swindoll, Evans, and others). That version of ES is extremely dangerous IMO.

    Yet there are still important realities at stake that would serve us well to understand.

    One of those things at stake is Biblical grounds for salvation assurance which I believe inevitable perseverance undercuts (http://arminianperspectives.wordpress.com/2008/10/29/perseverance-of-the-saints-part-13-salvation-assurance/).

    I’m trying to plow through a bunch of articles on perseverance on this site, but it would be helpful to be able to consistently dialog with someone. If there is a way to do that, it would be a blessing.

    You can leave questions at the posts or at the ??Questions?? page. May God bless you as you continue to seek Him and His truth.

    Ben

  6. The extreme on either side is dangerous and of course there are lots of nuances in between. What generally happens is that we argue against the extremes which does not usually represent most who hold a particular position. The calvanist rails against those who believe that someone loses there salvation at every misstep. The arminian rails against those who believe you profess faith in Christ and then live however you please. BTW, I’ve never known anyone who took that position and Stanley and Swindoll definitely don’t take that position though I am sure they don’t think about the idea of perseverance in the same terms as you would.
    I was reading through 1JN today and noticed 3:6. “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.”. This seems to address part of our earlier discussion. Is John not saying that a life of continual sin reveals one who has never known Christ? He seems to be addressing ones prior condition of not knowing Christ which results in an unchanged life even though the are presumably making professions of faith.

  7. Kevin,

    I am afraid you are mistaken about Stanley and Swindoll. They do advocate a view os ES that says that even those who abandon the faith are still saved and will go to heaven if ever they exercised genuine faith at some point.

    Those verses in John don’t really teach what you are suggesting. The verbs are in the perfect tense. So John is saying that such people have not seen while continuing to see, or known while continuing to know.

    Also, you will see that John repeatedly addresses his audience as truly saved. They have an “annointing”, etc. Yet he admonishes them to remain in Christ and to continue in the teaching, warning them of the consequences of not remaining and continuing. There would be no need to say such things if continuing and remaining were inevitable. For example, look at verses 20-28 in chapter two, directly following the warning about the anti-christs. More could be said, but I am out of time for now.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  8. Ben
    When you have the chance to clarify your comments on the verbs I would appreciate it. To say that they didn’t know but continue to know is nonsensical. It says they haven’t seen and haven’t known. The perfect tense merely affirms that past action with continuing results. They didnt know him and that continues to be there ongoing state in the present. I must be missing something in your response. It seems that John is making a simple declaration a out those who continue in sin. They haven’t truly seen or known Jesus and that is where they are today therefore they continue in their sin. Thanks for your interaction !

  9. Kevin,

    You said,

    To say that they didn’t know but continue to know is nonsensical.

    I didn’t say that they didn’t know but continue to know. That would be nonsensical. I said that they have not known or seen while continuing to know or see. What I meant was simply that they have not known or seen with continuing results, not that they didn’t know but continue to know. I didn’t word it very well, so I can see how you got confused.

    The perfect tense merely affirms that past action with continuing results

    Right, they didn’t know or see with continuing results. This doesn’t necessarily preclude them ever knowing or seeing, just knowing or seeing with results that continue in the present. In other words, it could simply be that their initial knowing and seeing didn’t last. This makes sense of all his warnings to continue and remain in Christ and the teaching. Indeed, the verse begins with, “Everyone remaining in Him does not sin…” It is a bit of an emphatic way of saying that someone cannot practice sin and continue in relationship with the Lord. What the text communicates is that anyone who sins has not known and continued knowing God. The “not” negates knew and continuing to know. You can’t separate the knew from the continuing to know in the verb.

    There is no sense in asking those who do not know Christ to continue to know Him, or to ask those who are not in Christ to remain in Him. But if you are correct, those who do not continue never knew and never saw. That makes John’s admonishments “nonsensical”.

    They haven’t truly seen or known Jesus and that is where they are today therefore they continue in their sin.

    This seems like another case of reading something into the text that isn’t there. You have gone from “has not known with continuing results” to “has not truly seen or known” Jesus. The passage really could be understood as you say (as not knowing and continuing to not know) or as I suggest (has not known with continuing results), but since this is supposed to be a proof text for inevitable perseverance, it ultimately fails to support that view, since it can really fit with either view (just like 1 John 2 :18-19). However, the context seems to better support my position in both passages.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  10. Kevin,

    Let me clarify something. It is not necessarily a matter of which specific view John intends by his use of the perfect. Rather, it can encompass both views in that John is using language that would cover both those who did not know and still do not know, as well as those who have not known and continued knowing (i.e. have not known with continuing results). John is using language that covers all the bases, so to speak. But again, his language cannot be used to argue for the “never saved to begin with” view against the view that says that true believers can forsake the faith, and the context and John’s repeated use of “remain” and “continue” strongly suggests to me (along with other factors) that John did indeed believe that those who once began in genuine relationship with Christ through faith could subsequently end that relationship through unbelief.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  11. Dearest Kevin,
    I would like to add a point to this discussion. I do have to say that I would agree with most of what I have read of Ben’s writings.However in the context of this scripture I must concur with you.
    First Ben’s explanation does not make sense to me, and secondly that the plain reading of this passage does lend itself to a Calvinistic interpretation on the surface!
    I must confess until I came across this thread I always read this passage seeing it’s implied meaning and telling the Lord I did not understand what John was saying here, you have to show me?
    Now however I took some time to seek Him about it and I believe He showed me the meaning to it!

    Firstly, having read it for a few times it struck me, that if John meant what the Calvinist interpretation of this passage is then it would imply that all Antichrists would have had to live a life that would be indistinguishable in word and deed from true followers of Christ before they revealed be coming out from us that they where never of us!

    However I believe History has shown many Antichrist types that never embraced the Christian faith, the Roman emperor “Nero ” for example!
    This would not make sense, I am sure you agree!?

    Secondly, I happen to believe that the KJV is the best English translation . In it these verses are a little bit different, it says:

    They went out from us, but they were not of us:for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not “all” of us.

    See that word all here puts this passage into perspective, showing that while as we know there are many among us that are not truly in Christ we also know that there are many among us that will fall away, as many passages in scripture point out, and there will be many Antichrist’s that never in any way or for any purpose embraced the Christian Faith at all.

    In the love of Jesus

    Rudi

  12. Rudi,

    Where exactly do you disagree with me?

  13. Dearest Ben,
    you replied to Kevin

    “In other words, the “plain reading” does not lend itself to that understanding, as you claim. I think you hit the nail on the head when
    you said, “It may be my inclination towards this view of apostasy that colors my view”.

    I disagreed with you here , for as I said above, I as an Arminian have wondered what John meant here, because the the plain reading of this passage, without prayerful consideration of the implications withing the context, does lend itself to the Calvinist interpretation!
    Especially reading it from the translation that you used above.

    As I said, thank God for the KJV which actually, now that I looked more carefully at this passage, resolves it rather clearly!

    In Jesus Love

    Rudi

  14. Rudi,

    I guess I will just have to disagree. I don’t see that implied in the text at all based on the language so I don’t see how it can lend itself to that understanding. But if that is how you read it, I can’t argue with that. I can only point out that the language itself does not imply it.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  15. Yes, Ben, I wonder if Rudi is missing the nuance of the Greek you pointed out. Based on that, your comments are right on and eliminate the Calvinist position on the verse, at least as supporting their view.

  16. arminian1,

    I agree with you, but I think he was addressing the intitial argument in his quote of me, that being 1 John 2:18-19 rather than 1 John 3:6.

  17. Oh, I see. But your point is strong there as well. The Calvinist and OSAS interpretations have to “ever” or “never” into the text when the text says nothing about their deserters’ prior spiritual condition. If we had some people leave the Society of Evangelical Arminians, and somebody asked me why they left, I may well say, they left because they didn’t believe our statement of faith. That would be a perfectly natural response and way of stating it, especially if I was focusing on their leaving the group. But of course, if they were ever part of the group, they would have held to our statement of faith at some point. I could just as easily have said, because they stopped adhering to our statement of faith. But saying they left because they did not agree with our statement of faith does not in any way imply that they never believed it.

  18. Has anyone ever thought that maybe both options could be true? Has it occurred that maybe some people who “leave the faith” are apostates, and some are simply people who never knew Jesus to begin with? I also wonder if people who are worried about having committed apostasy are worried not because they have done it, but because they ARE DOING it? Maybe the worry and fear are God’s way of waking people up to their impending doom, and what they think is condemnation is in fact conviction and warning? After all, the men in the book of Hebrews received a warning from God. True, it was by men and not directly by God, and true it was recorded to warn future potential apostates, but also true is the fact that those who have not been saved, or that are currently saved are subject to the conviction of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit would have no reason to draw someone to Christ, if He knew they were lost without hope. Certainly the Devil would have no desire to “convict” an apostate, after all, apostasy is his greatest triumph, and having a sinner who hates God on his side is far more substantial than having a scared apostate. Maybe the fear people feel is a fail safe device implanted into our souls?

  19. Dearest Ben,
    thank you for your question in the first place and now your reply.

    You said’

    “I guess I will just have to disagree. I don’t see that implied in the text at all based on the language so I don’t see how it can lend itself to that understanding. But if that is how you read it, I can’t argue with that”

    I agree wholeheartedly. Because there is some subjectivity in how we read it, we just have to agree to disagree!

    The important thing is that though we read it somewhat differently we do end up with the same conclusion, this does in no way support Calvinism!

    In the love Jesus
    Rudi

  20. Dearest Matt,

    ” See that word all here puts this passage into perspective, showing that while as we know there are many among us that are not truly in Christ we also know that there are many among us that will fall away, as many passages in scripture point out, and there will be many Antichrist’s that never in any way or for any purpose embraced the Christian Faith at all.”

    This was the last paragraph in my first post.
    It includes the two options you listed !

    And by the way, I agree with you, in what you said here!

    “I also wonder if people who are worried about having committed apostasy are worried not because they have done it, but because they ARE DOING it?”

    The Bible makes it clear that those who know Christ, know His peace in their hearts, if that peace is not there, ore is no longer there, then that reflects where we realy stand in our relationship with Christ our Lord!

    In Jesus Love

    Rudi

  21. Proverbs 13:24
    He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.

    Hebrews 12:6
    For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.

    Hebrews 12:7
    If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?

    God only corrects those He has already received as children, and those who have never been saved, are convicted of sin by the HS. Therefore, a person who is beyond salvation would receive neither conviction or chastening, because they are without hope.

  22. After that passage it says “But you are not like that for the holy one has given you his spirit and all of you know truth. This seems to imply that they never had the holy spirit in them!

    Hutton

  23. God only corrects those He has already received as children,

    It is utterly wrong. The whole Israel nation is a good counterexample, and even the whole world is another counter.

    and those who have never been saved, are convicted of sin by the HS.
    Why not all of them? It just turns in dust the Salvation Security: http://arminianperspectives.wordpress.com/2008/10/29/perseverance-of-the-saints-part-13-salvation-assurance/

    How can a person know that he was a really saving faith?

    Therefore, a person who is beyond salvation would receive neither conviction or chastening, because they are without hope.

    But what about the false teachers of 2Peter 2? http://arminianperspectives.wordpress.com/2007/11/19/perseverance-of-the-saints-part-4-again-entagled-in-corruption/

  24. I don’t quite get what you are trying to prove, but it looks like you proved your own points to be incorrect. You say that God still convicts the apostate? The passage you quoted in Peter says that He does NOT. They have as he states “returned to their vomit” like a dog and to their walling in the mire as a pig that was once cleaned. There is no conviction for someone who can’t repent, because the whole point of conviction is so that people will repent. You also missed the mark when it comes to who God draws by the HS, it IS EVERYONE (except the apostate) This idea that God arbitrarily chooses who to draw and who to send to hell is preposterous. A God that partial and cruel would not be worthy of anyone’s worship.

  25. I don’t quite get what you are trying to prove, but it looks like you proved your own points to be incorrect. You say that God still convicts the apostate?

    Now, I will ask what is your point here. If we are talking about a utterly reprobated apostate, someone like the Hebrews warnings, or even a HS blasphemer, well, there is no hope and God just kicks him from any salvific opportunity. I will surely concede the point.

    But, if your texts about God correcting only your sons, Romans 2 can be used against it.

  26. Hutton,

    Somehow I missed your comment till now. You wrote,

    After that passage it says “But you are not like that for the holy one has given you his spirit and all of you know truth. This seems to imply that they never had the holy spirit in them!

    It doesn’t imply that at all. One could read that into the text, but the passage is easily understood other ways. John is simply speaking of their present condition. They are believers who are indwelt with the Spirit, unlike the present condition of the ant-Christ’s who have no faith and are not indwelt with the Spirit. John is appealing to them to reject the testimony of the false teachers since they have no need to learn from the false teachers as they have the Spirit of truth and already know the truth. There is no secret or additional knowledge to run after. As John said, they need to remain in the teaching, not look for something else (verses 24-28)

    However, this does strengthen my point since John is definitely speaking to them as true believers indwelt with the Holy Spirit and yet constantly admonishes them to “remain”, “continue” etc. So it would seem that John did not believe that true believers were in no danger of possibly falling away. His warnings suggest exactly the opposite (cf. John 15).

    God Bless,
    Ben

  27. I have often wondered how may people who go from Christian churches to cults are apostate. It could be either way I suppose, but if we interpret the beast as a conglomeration of all false Christianity and false Christs, it could be that anyone who joins a cult is apostate, since worshiping the beast means definite eternal hell.

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